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Sanders, Democrats Introduce Bill to Guarantee Workers Paid Time Off

The US is the only wealthy country in the world that doesn’t guarantee time off for workers.

Peak bloom cherry blossoms frame the U.S. Capitol dome on the first full day of spring on March 20, 2024.

A group of congressional Democrats has introduced a bicameral bill this week that would establish a federal guarantee for paid time off for workers across the U.S. and end the U.S.’s status as the only wealthy country in the world that doesn’t guarantee the benefit to its workforce.

On Wednesday, a group of House Democrats led by Rep. Seth Magaziner (D-Rhode Island) introduced the Protected Time Off Act, which would guarantee full-time workers no less than two weeks of paid leave annually. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) is also introducing the proposal in the Senate.

Under the bill, workers would earn at least one hour of paid time off for every 25 hours worked, up to 80 hours guaranteed by federal law. This time off would come on top of leave that could be guaranteed by other laws, like family or sick time.

“Americans who put in an honest day’s work deserve to take time off, and I’m proud to introduce the PTO Act to make this a reality for all,” said Magaziner. “This is a matter of fairness and respect in the workplace. No one works harder than American workers, and they have earned a break.”

The bill would grant paid leave to roughly 27 million workers, or about a fifth of private sector workers who aren’t currently granted paid vacation time, according to the lawmakers.

The legislation has been cosponsored by 43 House members as well as a number of progressive and labor organizations, including unions like the AFL-CIO and Service Employees International Union.

Proposals for guaranteed paid leave have gained attention in recent years, with proposals for paid family and medical leave championed by Democrats and Sanders in particular. Across the globe, workers in similarly wealthy countries are all guaranteed sick time, family leave and vacation time; in the European Union, for instance, workers are entitled to four weeks of paid vacation, as well as paid sick and parental leave.

“It is time to end the international embarrassment of the United States being the only major country on earth not to guarantee paid vacation days to workers,” said Sanders in a statement. “In the richest country in the history of the world, workers should be treated with dignity and respect, and that includes having the basic right to a paid vacation.”

Paid sick leave in particular was subject to a flashpoint in recent years amid the rail workers’ union contract standoff in 2022, when rail workers demanded to be granted sick leave, and in 2021, when Democrats floated sick and family leave proposals in their marquee social safety net bill that was ultimately defeated by conservatives. Last year, Sanders, along with over 120 congressional Democrats, introduced a proposal to guarantee workers up to seven days of paid sick leave per year, but it never saw any movement in Congress.

Renewed interest in paid leave, along with a resurgent labor movement, has also sparked Sanders and some Democrats to champion legislation to call for a 32-hour work week. The senator announced this week that he is introducing a bill to shorten the workweek with no reduction of pay, allowing workers to reap benefits of increased productivity and automation as wages have remained stagnant for decades.

“While CEOs are making nearly 400 times as much as their average employees, many workers are seeing their family lives fall apart, missing their children’s birthday parties and Little League Baseball games, as they are forced to spend more time at work,” wrote Sanders and United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain in an op-ed published Tuesday. “This should not be happening in the United States of America in 2024. It’s time for a 32-hour workweek with no loss in pay.”

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